Vikings address defensive miscues in tough loss to Cowboys

Tony Pollard #20 of the Dallas Cowboys carries the ball for a touchdown during their game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 22, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. ((Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images))

Mike Zimmer spoke with disappointment Monday after the Minnesota Vikings let an opportunity to get back in the NFC Playoff picture slip away in a 31-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium.

It’s no secret that the Vikings have a young defense this season. It’s led to issues in the past, but not like what transpired on Sunday. After beating Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Nick Foles in three straight weeks, the Vikings were beaten by Andy Dalton’s 203 yards and three touchdowns. Ezekiel Elliott had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season.

So did overconfidence creep in after three straight wins?

“I think a little bit had to do with that these guys are kind of feeling their oats a little bit. Now they’re going to be playmakers, they’re going to do this and do that instead of doing their job,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes with young guys when they start thinking they’re pretty good, ‘Hey I might go do this, I’m going to make this play’ instead of sticking to the things in the defense that you’re supposed to do, I think that showed up more than a few times.”

The Cowboys came into Sunday’s game 2-7 off a bye week, and the Vikings were seeking their fourth straight win and could’ve gotten within one game of a Wild Card spot.

Zimmer pointed to two defensive plays, both in the second half, which made the difference in the game.

The first was Tony Pollard’s 42-yard touchdown run, which gave the Cowboys a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter. Pollard found a hole on the right side, and Chris Jones was there for tackle. Not only did he miss, his lack of effort on the play left plenty to be desired.

“Yeah, I had a problem with it,” said Zimmer, who likely gave Jones an earful about it after the loss.

“They get an opportunity to get on the edge, get a couple hats on people and not be able to get a runner on the ground is obviously frustrating. The offense goes down, picks some points up, we come back on the field with the expectation of holding them and kind of swinging the momentum back our way and continue to go forward. They get that big play, it obviously takes a little bit of energy out of you,” safety Anthony Harris said.

The other came on the eventual game-winning touchdown for Dallas. CeeDee Lamb went in pre-snap motion, giving the Vikings’ defense some communication issues. Both Jeff Gladney and Harrison Smith pursued in coverage, and Dalton Schultz went on a crossing route with no defenders in sight. The result was a go-ahead touchdown with 1:37 to play.

“We were in man-to-man and (Lamb) went into rocket motion and our guy came off his guy trying to help another guy,” Zimmer said.

Earlier in that same series, both Eric Kendricks and Kris Boyd had near interceptions that could’ve sealed the win. Somebody didn’t do their job, and the result was a heartbreaking loss that’s all too familiar. Dalton made the winning plays, and the Cowboys ran for 180 yards, averaging nearly six yards per carry.

With six games to play, there’s no margin for error if the goal remains the playoffs.

“It’s just disappointing. I thought we were getting better defensively after the last three weeks, but that didn’t show up yesterday,” Zimmer said.